WHY SPARE TIRES MIGHT SOON BE HIS­TORY

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - Nor­man May­er­sohn ©2017 The New York Times

To the list of items you should no longer ex­pect to see in a new car — those once-com­mon fea­tures like a metal ig­ni­tion key, an ash­tray or a vent win­dow that swings open — you may soon be adding the spare tire.

Al­ready, nearly a third of the 2017 mod­els of­fered in the United States do not come out­fit­ted with a save-the-day spare as stan­dard equip­ment, ac­cord­ing to a re­cent study by AAA.

In truth, the ex­tinc­tion of the spare tire has been hap­pen­ing, if grad­u­ally, for years. Full-size spares gave way to the space-sav­ing “dough­nut” ver­sions you some­times spot on ve­hi­cles trav­el­ing at wor­ry­ing speeds. They, in turn, are yield­ing their un­der­floor real es­tate to no tire at all.

The elim­i­na­tion of the spare by au­tomak­ers is not en­tirely an aban­don­ment of good sense or a se­vere ex­am­ple of cost-cut­ting; in fact, it can ben­e­fit driv­ers. The pri­mary goal is weight re­duc­tion, a cru­cial fac­tor in meet­ing fuel econ­omy stan­dards.

Re­mov­ing a sub­stan­tial amount of rub­ber and steel — up to 40 pounds, ac­cord­ing to in­dus­try ex­perts — along with a jack and a lug wrench is a big win for en­gi­neers who are con­di­tioned to shave ounces wher­ever pos­si­ble. But as ap­peal­ing as it may be to skip the dough­nut and lose a lit­tle weight, the dis­ap­pear­ing spare can cause headaches: AAA said that last year it had an­swered road­side as­sis­tance calls from 450,000 mem­bers whose cars did not have spares — a sit­u­a­tion that can mean a trip to the re­pair shop on a flatbed.

The free­dom to elim­i­nate spare tires al­to­gether is largely pos­si­ble as a re­sult of de­vel­op­ments in tire con­struc­tion tech­nol­ogy.

An in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar al­ter­na­tive to spares is the so-called run-flat de­sign, which most new BMW mod­els use. In­tended to make road­side tire changes un­nec­es­sary, this so­lu­tion em­ploys a re­in­forced tire side­wall that typ­i­cally lets the driver con­tinue for 50 miles at up to 50 mph af­ter air pres­sure is lost. But they can be more costly: It may be nec­es­sary to re­place, rather than sim­ply patch, a dam­aged tire, and re­place­ments are typ­i­cally priced $25 to $50 higher than a con­ven­tional de­sign.

An­other al­ter­na­tive is the self-seal­ing tire, an older so­lu­tion reap­pear­ing in mod­ern form on the bat­tery-pow­ered Chevro­let Bolt, where re­duced weight trans­lates to more miles per charge. De­signed solely as an elec­tric ve­hi­cle, the Bolt has no pro­vi­sion for car­ry­ing a spare. Ac­cord­ing to Miche­lin, which sup­plies the Bolt’s En­ergy Saver A/S Self­seal rub­ber, the ex­tra cost of a self-seal­ing tire — which can con­tinue down the road even with a nail in the tread — is about $33 com­pared with con­ven­tional tires of the same size.

But some mod­els are los­ing the spare with­out the ben­e­fit of run­flat or self-seal­ing rub­ber, in­stead in­clud­ing con­ven­tional tires and a leak re­pair kit — pack­aged in an aerosol can or used in con­junc­tion with a small air com­pres­sor pow­ered by the car’s bat­tery.

Such kits skim weight while skip­ping the tire, but have limited abil­i­ties to deal with any road haz­ard more se­ri­ous than a nail hole in the tire’s tread sec­tion. A larger tear in the tire — some­thing that can hap­pen when mod­ern low-pro­file tires meet a pot­hole — or dam­age to the side­wall or wheel rim will not be fixed by a leak kit. The sealants, which are usu­ally one-time use de­vices, have a fi­nite shelf life — usu­ally from four to eight years, AAA said — and cost about $40 to re­place.

The dis­ap­pear­ance of the spare tire might be more than just an ex­er­cise in ef­fi­ciency. It may be a so­ci­o­log­i­cal state­ment. A sur­vey by AAA found that some 20 per­cent of driv­ers do not know how to change a flat tire, and with the rise of road­side as­sis­tance cov­er­age for new cars, that num­ber is un­likely to shrink.

GEN­ERAL MO­TORS / VIA THE NEW YORK TIMES

A tire in­fla­tor that came stan­dard with the 2011 Chevro­let Cruze Eco steps in for the spare tire that might oth­er­wise have been used in this sit­u­a­tion. A sur­vey by AAA showed a third of 2017-model cars are not sup­plied with a spare tire.

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